Freihofer Jazz Festival Ushers in Great Music in Saratoga Springs, NY
For the best in in-the-pocket mainstream jazz, fans had to look no further than a pair of drummers, legendary Roy Haynes and Carl Allen. Haynes' band was younger, but it played high-energy music propelled by the octogenarian's still massive and inventive chops. He's not a showman, simply a great musician who provides what's needed, and plenty of it. But it's hard not to focus on the person most drummers call the Main Man. Allen's energy is incredible and the band's breathing comes from that.
Allen's band was slick and hip, with the leader playing terrific drums that exemplified the best of the jazz tradition, done with style and class. Aaron Goldberg was a delight on piano, playing with power needed to complement Allen's playing, which would grow in intensity, and also delightfully strolling through medium-tempo tunes, at once tasteful and creative. Vincent Herring, a veteran alto sax man, was smooth as silk, incorporating the playful and soulful sound of Cannonball Adderley at times, and digging in with true grit at others. Tony Williams' "Sister Cheryl" was a great choice, but Allen's own "La Shea's Walk" personified not only the cool side of the band and each soloist but, with the mid-tempo swing number, set the tone for Sunday, as it jumped out across the venue at just after noontime to begin the day.
Intensity and groove were also a staple of Jean-Luc Ponty's group. The band was tight as a drum, whether it played Latin-ish grooves, or combinations of rhythms from other parts of the globe. The music moved beautifully. He played from his new CD The Atacama Experience, but also chose pieces including "Fast Lane" and "Point of No Return" from early fusion days. His violin was searing and soaring, and fit sweetly with the bandhe was far better than his appearance two years earlier with "all- stars" Bela Fleck and Stanley Clarke." It was one hot band.
Intensity is also a word that pops up when Ravi Coltrane plays. His tenor sax sound is strong and tough, and he has the sense of exploration that comes from both of his famous parents. "One-Wheel William" was a typical Coltrane song that flashed different colors, making it seem like the musicians were always looking for something new to say. Luis Perdomo on piano was a great sight and sound, and his playing went along with the concentrated nature of Coltrane's music.
For pure jazz musicality, the Dizzy Gillespie All-Star Band, led by Slide Hampton, shined brightly. It's a collection of great musicians, but the arrangements of the songs were as much the heroes of the day as the individual solo efforts. Gillespie songs like "Manteca" and "Con Alma" were wonderfully realized. A highlight was the trumpet section work, particularly the solos of trumpeters Roy Hargrove and Claudio Roditi. Hargrove appeared in a particularly jovial bent, playing bright figures and dancing along, at times, to the band's powerful swing. All the sections simply rocked. The ageless James Moody played fine tenor and also scatted his famous solo set to vocalese by Eddie Jefferson and King Pleasure"Moody's Mood for Love." Drummer Dennis McKrell (who also provided some of the best arrangements) drove the band expertly. The band had the audience on its feet howling after nearly every number. (Hampton joked that the ovations were making them feel like pop stars).
A pair of women, reed specialist Anat Cohen and bassist/singer Esperanza Spalding, provided fine sets at the gazebo stage. Spalding fronted her trio, showing superb chops on the contrabass, often singing improvisational wordless vocals over the various melodies, at times harmonizing with her bass work and at other times weaving through the chord changes. Sometimes, she improvised more with lyrics, like on "Autumn Leaves." The band was crisp.
Cohen's band was primarily the one she used on Poetic, one of two records she released this year (the other Noir). She displayed her beautifully melodic clarinet playing on songs like "The Purple Piece" and "Hofim" from the same album. Hers is an unhurried style, much welcomed, that creates emotion and melodic inventiveness with a luscious tone. On tenor, she also showed a slow syrupy side on her trip through "Never Let Me Go" but switched into high gear later on with facility and passion. Jason Linder was powerful on piano, and the support from Omer Avital on bass and Daniel Freedman on drums had Cohen beaming, and also playing her ass off.
The gazebo also featured the ever-solid guitarist Peter Bernstein in an organ trio (Mike LaDonne) that did a fine job of showing the tradition of that popular B3 configuration. Singer Vasandani did standards in a soft style that displayed a nice sense of time and phrasing. His improvisation is subtle, not soaring, but satisfying. And he's written some good songs, like "Please Mr. Ogilvy," one of his set's highlights.